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From OXO to Kohler and Herman Miller to Target, good design is at the core of many American businesses. But after a short list of the usual suspects, and a review of the usual products, what is the state of design in America? What exactly is design, where is design’s epicenter, and how do you even define American design? For these answers, Linda Tishchler puts a microscope on the subject of design in this Fast Company article, The United States of Design.
Thinking globally but focusing on America, the subject of design seems to come up when the conversation comes around to entrepreneurship and technology. Good design, the thinking goes, begins with the tinkerer, the classic idea on a cocktail napkin, the root of an product idea. Design also provides a way for people to connect and share and communicate; think Twitter simplicity. From online to in-store, user experiences matter more than ever, and companies are taking notice, however reluctantly. Apple—I can’t believe it took me this long to say the word Apple–okay, Apple is the go-to example, but here’s what’s confusing: companies as big as Nike and as cool as Method and yes, as rich as Apple, the ones that don’t just energize their respective product categories but create entirely new ones, they never seem to be asking themselves, “form or function?” They just get it, and the answer is “yes,” form and function.
So why don’t we have a national design school? Why do Americans prefer invention over perfection? Why the constant chase for what’s next? As the article states, Americans are more open to design and we are welcoming more designers from around the world, but we are an impatient bunch, rushing to market, focusing on recouping investment, and hitting quarterly earnings. All of which confuses me, because design is often the difference between winning and losing, between one day’s sale and years of loyalty, between being a commodity or being something people talk about. Design stacks the deck in your favor; when in doubt, and especially in rough economic times, creating something better is the ultimate advantage.
The best marketers with the most persuasive campaigns have also produced the most beautifully designed campaigns. The manufacturers who understand that a product must work well, in addition to feeling great in your hand, in addition to looking great, become loved. The companies who put reinvention—by design–in their DNA, reap the dividends. Design is the incredibly comfortable chair you can stay in for hours, the beautiful wine label that hints at the craftmanship inside, the company website that projects just the right emotion. Design is getting on the America radar, if slowly. Check out the companies, the products, and designers leading the way.